Priti Patel plans daily crisis meetings to fix our stalling system for Ukrainian refugees
Senior ministers are to hold daily crisis meetings to get Britain’s beleaguered schemes for Ukrainian refugees back on track.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, will chair the sessions with senior officials running the widely criticised Homes for Ukraine programme.
More than 200,000 kind-hearted British families have volunteered to open their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war, but many have been left angered and frustrated by swathes of red tape.
Home Secretary Priti Patel will begin holding crisis meetings after UK’s schemes to take in refugees from Ukraine have been constricted by red tape
Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, will chair the sessions alongside Priti Patel, after 200,000 families volunteered their homes to house Ukrainian refugees – but very few visa have been granted for them
Although the number of completed applications is thought to have topped 30,000, just 2,000 visas have been handed out to Ukrainians by the Home Office, latest figures show.
It comes as the new refugees minister Lord Harrington is due to appear before MPs in the Commons today with an update on progress.
A Government source said that 300 officials were now working on processing the deluge of applications – including night shifts and weekend working.
Meanwhile, an extra 200 high-security ‘Firecrest’ computer terminals – needed to process the sensitive details – have also been deployed.
The process of approving applications has also been ‘redesigned’ to make it quicker, Whitehall sources said.
‘The Home Office is working flat out to streamline processes while maintaining vital security checks to make it easier for Ukrainians to come to the UK,’ the source said. ‘The number of visas being granted under Homes for Ukraine should start to ramp up at the end of this week.’
New refugee minister, Lord Harrington (pictured) told MPs two weeks ago that he thought ‘thousands’ of evacuees would have already arrived by now
Combining Homes for Ukraine with a separate scheme for refugees who have family links to the UK, more than 25,000 people have now been offered sanctuary here.
It means the Government has set up ‘one of the fastest and biggest visa programmes in British history’, the source said.
Earlier this week the Daily Mail reported widespread frustration and ‘growing panic’ in Whitehall at the slow pace of the Homes for Ukraine programme.
Now most of that irritation is being directed at Miss Patel’s department, which processes refugees’ visas and oversees the vetting of applicants.
One source said ministers were clear they ‘have to start delivering on this’, or risked alienating thousands of British voters who are desperate to help.
Max Fox, 32, welcomed Ukrainian refugee Vlad, 26 – who he met while helping with humanitarian aid efforts in Poland – to the UK as he landed at Manchester Airport this week
Lord Harrington told MPs two weeks ago that he expected ‘thousands’ of evacuees would have arrived through the Homes for Ukraine scheme by now.
The number to have actually made it here has not yet been released by the Government, but is thought to be in the hundreds. The Home Secretary has repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining a rigorous visa application system for national security reasons.
Although the vast majority of people fleeing Ukraine are women and children, Miss Patel has said that it would be ‘naive and misguided’ to think Russian agents could not be among them.
A full Government-backed system to match hosts with evacuees is due to be announced soon. But until then, volunteers can pair up informally with Ukrainians and include those details in the Homes for Ukraine online application form.
Hosts have been offered a £350-a-month, tax-free ‘thank you’ from the Government in exchange for taking in refugees for a minimum of six months.
The UK’s other visa programme, the Ukraine Family Scheme, allowing families to be reunited in Britain, saw a slow start but has now handed out more than 22,000 visas to evacuees.